See notes and disclaimer on part one.
"Everyone is more or less mad on one point."
--- Rudyard Kipling
"'Bout time you two showed up. I've been waiting for twenty minutes." Threading their way through the maze of crowded tables to where Simon Banks waited, Jim and Blair ignored the frown directed at them. Even sitting down the dark captain appeared larger than most of the other patrons in the Chinese restaurant. The two late arrivals dropped their coats over the back of a single chair and sat, Jim sighing wearily. Seemed like he'd been sitting all day, looking at those folders. He waved one hand at Blair.
"Sorry, between the fog driving over here and the fact Sandburg had to try out his new toy..." Jim shrugged. "Kid wanted to program all his speed dials before we left."
Blair grinned wickedly as Simon's glare shifted his way.
"Hey, man, gotta be prepared." He reached over and pulled the new phone out of the front pocket of his khaki jacket. Flipping it open, he pointed at the numbers as he expounded. "Jim, you, Cascade P.D., Rainier, Wanda, Bambi, Chantal..."
Simon's bass voice rumbled with laughter as he held a hand up pleadingly.
"Stop right there, Sandburg! I do *not* want a dissertation on your love life! Not before dinner, and most certainly not afterward. And, considering that's an official Cascade P.D. cell phone, the less I know at this point, the better!"
Blair's retort was cut off by another voice.
"Captain, I'm glad to see your friends finally made it."
Glasses of water appeared in front of Jim and Blair, and a menu encased in dark green vinyl was extended towards Jim. Wait a minute...he knew that voice, knew that scent. The Sentinel looked up into cool grey eyes that held his mockingly for a moment, before flickering down to the menu she held out in one dark-purple-nailed hand.
Tonight Morag wore a fitted, knee-length dress of silky jade material. The black stockings remained, but instead of the lace up boots the long legs ended in practical black flats. In place of her usual Gothic makeup she wore only a dark shade of red lipstick. Long dark curls neatly gathered into a ponytail held by a large silver barrette, spider web earrings replaced by simple dangling bars with pearls at each end, Blair's fellow grad student looked...well, mostly normal. Attractive, even. His jaw slack with shock, Jim took the menu mutely. Ignoring him, Morag smiled at Simon as she offered him a menu next. Without the makeup to overcome, the smile was most effective.
"Morag! Hey, I didn't know you worked here!" Blair's smile was infectious, and Morag laughed.
"Whoa, Blair Sandburg admitting he doesn't know something and in public to boot. That's got to be a first! Wait until I tell your anthro 101 students you're not quite the all-knowing god you claim to be!" Blair laughed, and Morag winked at him before looking back at Simon. "Quite honestly, sir, I didn't think a man of your obvious charm and intelligence would be this hard up for friends."
Morag didn't deign to notice one of those friends as Simon chuckled.
"Well, Miss, I'm sure somewhere in the world it must be 'Be Kind to Animals Week.'"
"Hey!" Blair objected as he reached for the menu Morag was now holding out to him. "I resemble that remark!"
"No, Blair, you don't." Morag smiled sweetly at Blair, then blinked innocently at Jim. "Your partner does. And, your waitress will be here in a few minutes to take your order. Enjoy your meal." With another wink, for Simon this time, she strode away, leaving a silent table in her wake. As usual, Sandburg thought of something to say first.
"You know, Jim, I don't think there's any doubt. She heard you last night." With a sideways grin at a still-open- mouthed Jim, staring after Morag, Blair took a sip of his water from the glass before opening his own menu.
"Heard what, Sandburg? Ellison, close your mouth. You'll attract flies." Simon took a closer look at his top detective. "Are you blushing, Jim?"
Jim snapped his mouth shut, and glared at Blair for lack of anything better to do. Wasn't there a dial for blushing, or hadn't Sandburg thought of that yet? Simon stared from one to the other of his friends in confusion.
"Heard Jim say what? Who is she?" He twisted around, trying to get a better look at Morag, now out of his line of sight at the front of the restaurant.
Jim found his voice before Blair finished taking a breath.
"Morag's another grad student. Blair works with her at Rainier." Mouth closed, teeth gritted after that tidbit, he hoped Simon would accept it and forget the rest of his questions. Jim opened the menu, still trying to control his blush and only partially succeeding.
Simon rolled his eyes at Jim, and turned to Blair.
"Thank you, Mr. Eloquence. Sandburg, you want to explain just what it is that Jim doesn't want me to know?"
Blair's menu shook as he tried to hold in his laughter, and he ignored the glare Jim shot him.
"Oh, you are in so deep, Jim. Talk about ‘hoisted by your own petard.'" To Simon, he said, "Morag overheard something Jim said last night that he, like, *so* wishes she hadn't."
"Overheard? There's that word again. Will somebody please tell their *Captain* exactly what is going on?"
"Sandburg..." Jim growled from behind his menu, feeling the flush steal higher on his cheeks.
"I don't know Jim, this is pretty good. I mean, I can get mondo mileage out of this. Jim Ellison, Boy Scout incarnate, caught red-handed insulting a woman behind her back. I mean, if it was Cassie, well, no one would think anything of it. But this was Morag, man. She's innocent, perfectly innocent. Just a sweet little college grad student."
Simon's jaw dropped now.
"You didn't. Her?" Simon looked over his shoulder again, quickly finding Morag, busy seating another group of patrons, then turned back to Jim. "Why?"
Jim ducked further behind his menu.
"There were extenuating circumstances," he muttered, hoping against hope that another pair of Sentinel-like ears were absolutely *not* tuned in to the conversation at their table.
Simon leaned forward, elbows on the table, menu forgotten in front of him.
"I'm listening." The dark man's voice was velvet-sheathed steel, and Jim winced. He really, really did not want to discuss this, not with Morag across the room, able to hear every word.
Still shaking with barely repressed laughter, Blair ignored his squirming Sentinel to lean over and whisper a few brief sentences in Simon's ear. The resulting guffaw could be heard across town, Jim was sure.
"I'm impressed, Jim. When you decide to insult a woman, you do go all out, don't you?"
"Simon, could we continue this conversation elsewhere?" Jim refused to come out from behind his menu.
"I could order you to apologize."
Startled, Jim finally looked over his menu at his companions, only to have them both dissolve into helpless laughter. Simon caught his breath first.
"Damn, Jim, but that look on your face...it's priceless!"
Blair collapsed on the table, burying his head in his arms as he was taken by another fit of laughter. Simon didn't even pretend to be interested in the menu he held up now, his shoulders still quaking with amusement. Teeth clenched, jaw muscles working overtime, Jim looked away from both his friends, out over the busy restaurant. At the front of the restaurant, Morag was watching him. As their eyes met she smiled slightly, lifting one eyebrow and inclining her head his way in one brief, amused nod.
Damn. ‘Hoisted by his own petard,' indeed.
Jim smiled ruefully at the girl. Might as well get it over with. He knew she heard his softly whispered "Apology?" Morag pursed her lips thoughtfully for a moment, then smiled a bit larger. Someone called her name over at the register, but her eyes met his and he saw the second brief nod she sent his way before answering the summons. Feeling somewhat relieved, Jim turned back to his friends, both still lost in the throes of their own amusement.
Well, okay, maybe he did deserve a little of this, but it was time someone got Simon and Blair under control before they hurt themselves.
Thankfully, the waitress arrived to do just that, and in the bustle of ordering dinner and drinks Jim was saved further embarrassment. After that the night returned to normal--well, as normal as things got in the Sandburg Zone, Jim thought, two hours and one Peking Duck later. But it beat staring at old files and old autopsy photos by a long shot. Only half listening as Blair expounded yet another theory about the impact of the original Star Trek series on modern American culture, Jim let his eyes wander along with his thoughts. A few seconds later, he saw Morag, teal dress just visible behind the screen of greenery shielding the waiter's station. Hands rubbing her temples, eyes screwed shut, she leaned back against the counter, the pained expression on her face one Jim could sympathize with all too well.
At that moment a nearby busboy lost the battle with an overfilled dishtub and the entire mess went crashing down to the floor, not five feet from Morag. Having turned his own hearing down the minute he entered the restaurant, Jim only winced, but Morag gasped, swayed, and would have collapsed if a blonde waiter hadn't grabbed her arm. Jim could tell she was objecting, but the waiter called another man over, a manager probably, if the tackiness of his tie was anything to go by. After a brief conversation and, over her continuing objections, Morag was escorted through the tables toward a door in the front corner of the restaurant. The sign on the door said simply, 'Office.'
"It's dead, Jim."
Bright blue eyes sparkled merrily as Jim brought his attention back to the table and his friends. Blair grinned as their gazes locked, and Jim followed his Guide's pointed look down to his own plate, and the inoffensive, left-over piece of fowl he had been absently spearing with his fork for the last few minutes.
"Or, would, 'Dammit, Jim, it's dead!' be more appropriate?" Blair's grin widened as Jim shook his head and looked up at the ceiling. The silent plea went unanswered, at least as far as Jim could tell, since Sandburg just sat there, grinning happily and bouncing slightly.
Head dropping into his hands, Simon groaned.
"You have got to monitor the Kid's television viewing more closely, Jim. This Star Trek obsession he's gone off on now--"
Jim shook his head at Simon, then scowled at Blair.
"He'll get over it, Simon, like he gets over all his other little infatuations. Or, I can always cancel the cable service..." One eyebrow up, icy blue eyes tried to stare down river blue and failed--miserably.
"No way, man, I know you better than that." Blair shook his head, stabbing the table with a finger as he made his next point. "You'd have to give up ESPN One, Two and Three, not to mention Fox Sports Northwest *and* TNT's Monday Nitro World Wrestling--"
"There are only *two* ESPN channels, and I do *not* watch World Wrestling!" growled the Sentinel.
Blair just kept grinning, eyes twinkling dangerously. Jim sighed, then pointed the fork he still held at his roommate.
"Just because you happened to walk in after I fell asleep that one night--waiting up for you *again* I might add, Mr. Sandburg--and that's what was on--"
Sandburg turned to Simon, eyebrows raised inquiringly. Simon chuckled and met Jim's glare briefly before meeting the Observer's gaze and nodding.
"He was watching it," Simon and Blair pronounced in unison, then both broke out laughing again when Jim threw his fork down on the mostly empty plate with a disgusted sigh. He just couldn't win tonight. It just wasn't gonna happen.
Once again Jim was saved by the waitress as she delivered the bill and gathered up their empty plates. Simon reached for the ticket as Jim and Blair stood and grabbed their coats, the former resolutely ignoring both his roommate and his captain. Shrugging into his coat, Jim followed his companions to the front of the restaurant. Darned if he could figure out when and where had it been written that tonight's entertainment was all to be at his expense. Blair chattered contentedly at Simon's side as they waited for someone to attend to them at the register. Turning away from the noise, Jim searched briefly for Morag, but the office door in the front corner hadn't opened in the ten minutes since she disappeared in there with the manager. Jim grabbed Sandburg's elbow, interrupting the flow of words and drawing him back from the counter. Simon shot him a grateful look, then returned to the business of settling the bill.
"Chief, did you ever teach Morag about using the dials for her hearing?" Jim asked his roommate softly.
Hands in his coat pockets, Blair shook his head.
"No, man, she had it pretty well under control, and I was still just figuring things out at that point. Said most of the time she didn't even notice it. She only came to talk to me about it for the extra credit I offered in class. Didn't even realize she had any enhanced senses until I talked her into doing the tests anyway." Stepping out of the way of a couple cozily entwined arm in arm, Blair turned all the way around to face Jim. "Why?"
Jim busied himself zipping his coat. Maybe it wasn't any of his business after all. Still, that headache had to be murderous. He knew that feeling all too well, just like he knew Sandburg could help Morag. What the heck? It couldn't hurt to tell Blair; Morag was Sandburg's friend, after all.
"I noticed her having trouble earlier, looked like her head was really hurting. A busboy dropped a tub of dishes not five feet from her and she nearly passed out."
As he spoke, there was movement in the corner. The office door opened a crack, but no further. Voices could be heard, maybe not by the normal human ear, but Jim wasn't your average citizen, either. Mindful of the potential for repeat crashes of crockery, Jim carefully focused his hearing on the slightly open door.
"...fine, Mr. Wang. Please--"
"Morag, this is the fourth time you've had to go home sick in the last two weeks, and you've called in sick at least that many times. I'm sorry, but I have to have staff I can depend on, not someone who has a less than 50% chance of being able to finish her shift--that is if she even shows up in the first place." The man paused, and Jim heard Morag's breath catch.
The door swung open then, the manager standing back as if to let another go first. His Guide's hand on Jim's arm, anchoring him as he concentrated, tightened briefly as Morag stepped into view. Black cape clutched tightly before her, face paler than it ever was with the Gothic makeup, Morag stood silently, biting her lip. Jim didn't need enhanced sight to know she was trying not to cry. Then, "Mr. Wang--"
The manager shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Morag, but there's nothing I can do. You get this problem taken care of, come and see me again. I'll see what I can do for you then. Until that time, however, I am going to have to let you go. Stop by tomorrow and pick up your check."
Morag swung her cape on and reached for the omnipresent backpack lying at her feet. Head held high, she stepped out of the office and past the manager without another word. Though she didn't make a noise, Jim knew how much that effort had to cost her. God, did he know what it cost to try to keep yourself sane and functional when your senses were going nuts on you. It only took one out-of-whack dial to make the slightest sensation torture.
Hugging the outer wall of the dining room, Morag headed straight for the door. Jim couldn't tell if she was ignoring them or truly didn't see them. With her hearing out of whack, it was probably all she could do to stand up straight enough to get out of the noisy restaurant. Dialing his hearing back down, Jim looked back at Blair.
"She just got fired. One too many headaches."
Blair swore softly, his eyes on Morag, now trying to shake off the blonde waiter who'd helped her earlier. Simon joined the two men just as she made her escape and fled out the front door. Blair's hand tightened again on Jim's arm.
Jim nodded. He knew what his partner wanted.
"I'll catch up to you."
Blair was already headed for the entrance, turning and walking backwards long enough to say, "Thanks for dinner, Simon!" and then he was through the door. Jim heard him call for Morag as the door slammed behind him.
"What's up with the kids?"
"Nothing a little time in the Sandburg Zone won't cure," Jim quipped, then sobered at Simon's enquiring look. "Morag seems to be having some trouble controlling her hearing."
Simon nodded as he slipped his own coat on.
"Well, that's definitely out of my area of expertise. I'll leave that to you and your goofy roommate. In the meantime, I have to get home. See you at the station tomorrow?"
Jim nodded as they headed for the door.
"Sandburg has classes, but I'll be there in the morning."
"Good. See you then."
Simon headed for his car, and Jim looked through the fog for his roommate. Not seeing anyone, he tried finding his roommate by scent. That proved no safer than hearing as Simon's Cavalier roared past him. Smelled like it was leaking a little bit of oil. There! That way. Jim made sure that was Blair's herbal shampoo he smelled through the exhaust, and headed for his truck.
"O Lord, sir, when a heroine goes mad she always goes into white satin."
---Richard Brensley Sheridan
Jim didn't catch up with Blair and Morag for at least two blocks. Even then he would have lost them in the fog but for the scent of Blair's shampoo that came with the cool mist through the open window. He found the pair around the third corner he turned. Facing each other at the edge of a school playground, baseball backstops looming behind them in the soft pink glow of the corner streetlight, they seemed frozen, stiff in the fog-diffused light. Blair's hands were tucked in his coat pockets; Morag stood several feet away, leaning slightly toward his roommate and holding a--
The end of her cigarette glowed sharply red as Jim pulled over to the other side of the street. He slipped the truck into neutral for a moment before turning it completely off. What in the world was going on? How hard could it be to offer someone a ride home? Getting out of the truck, he shut the door quietly. Morag had to have had her hearing more under control, or she would have reacted when he drove up. But, "under control" and "no headache" were two entirely separate things. Putting his own hands in his pockets, Jim strode across the street.
"You were *following* me! Why?! WHY?" Morag's irate whisper carried clearly through the fog.
One foot on the curb, Jim stopped dead in his tracks. What the--? There was something different about her voice, it was huskier, deeper than normal. And the way she was standing, not to mention the cigarette...Jim stared for a moment as Morag took another long drag on her cigarette. Every rigid line of her body definitely --*most* definitely--radiated hostility. She favored him with a glance, and Jim took an involuntary step backwards as their eyes met.
In that one brief flicker of grey, he saw more shadows and depth than he'd ever seen in Morag's eyes. Hell, to tell the truth, her eyes were one reason Jim had never cared for her. He could get past the Gothic crap; he'd gotten used to Sandburg's neo-hippy looks after all. But her eyes, they were never...warm. Never alive. Cool grey, almost icy white sometimes, but if eyes were the window to someone's soul then Morag Gilbertson had lost her soul long ago. At the restaurant earlier tonight, her eyes had held a bit of warmth, more than normal, even a bit of humor; the soul was still carefully hidden, though. No longer. Now, for whatever reason --the headache, her out-of-control hearing, whatever--at this moment that soul was in full view, and it was a soul in torment. Jim wasn't sure he wanted anything to do with it.
"You followed me too, big man?" she growled. "I already told *fanboy* over there I don't like to be followed." Her tone made the slang term an obscenity before she dismissed Jim with a blink and turned her attention back to Sandburg.
His roommate shrugged helplessly when Jim shot a glance his way.
"Hey, man, I'm just trying to figure out when it was decided that offering a friend a ride home was a criminal offense." Blair's voice was low, his bewilderment obvious to the taller man.
Jim turned back to Morag. Extending his senses slightly, he tried to monitor her heartbeat for a moment. It was fast, too fast, with a sussurating murmur to boot. He could hear the small moaning breaths she took in between puffs on her cigarette. Her pupils, narrowed to almost pinpoints even in the half-light, the haggard lines on her face, the shaking hands that lifted the cigarette for another drag, all testified to the migraine Jim knew she was fighting. Which almost made her current hostility make sense--almost.
Morag winced as a car roared by, stereo blaring even through the closed windows. Her backpack dropped to the ground along with her cigarette as her hands flew up to her head. Eyes closed, she spun blindly away from them, swaying. Jim covered the distance to her in three long strides and caught her elbow before she could fall all the way, and for a moment she relaxed against him, accepting his help. Blair was there too, gently grasping her other elbow, one hand resting lightly on the center of her back, talking in that quiet way he had. Not quite his full Guide voice, but weaving his own peculiar magic with that soft, hypnotic tone.
"Morag, picture a dial, like for your stereo or something. Just think of that, and make the connection to your hearing, make that connection and--"
"NO!" Morag jerked away from Jim and Blair, her hands flying back up to her head an instant later in response to her own cry.
"No." She whispered it this time, tears of pain flowing as she did so, staggering away across the playground, into the fog, heedless of the pack she'd left behind. "Don't *touch* me. Don't follow me! I do *not* want anything from you!"
Blair was after her in a minute, Jim not far behind, pausing to snag the pack on the ground as he passed it, and carefully stepping on the cigarette that had landed, smoldering, in the grass a few feet away.
"Morag, wait!" Blair called softly. "Please, look, we know you're in pain, and I can help you, I really can, if you'll only let--Morag!"
But Morag wasn't waiting, wasn't listening. Blair jogged up behind her and grabbed her shoulder, only to fall back with his hands up when she turned on him, her eyes wild, fingers clawing at his face. Jim was there first, dropping the pack and grabbing her wrists, pulling her away from his Guide, his strength almost not enough for Morag's desperation as she writhed and struggled in his grasp. In one smooth move, without letting go of her arms, Jim twisted her around so that her back was to him, then tightened his grip so that he was holding her against his chest, fully prepared to take her all the way to the ground if she decided to do more than just flutter kick with her feet. She didn't, and though Jim tried to hold the struggling woman lightly, he knew she'd probably have bruises tomorrow where his large hands gripped her forearms.
"Let me go, don't *touch* me, don't *touch* me, get away, you *followed* me! Just get away and leave me alone. Don't *TOUCH* me!" Her voice barely audible, she wasn't giving up.
"Jim, let her go," Blair whispered worriedly, one hand on Jim's elbow. Jim almost laughed at the surreal contrast: the wild woman struggling in his arms, doing her best to claw her way through him, and yet everyone whispering as if they were afraid to wake a sleeping baby.
"I'll let her go when she quits trying to claw someone," Jim, too, spoke quietly, but Morag heard the weight of authority in his voice. She quit struggling after a moment, stood rigid, but he could feel the effort it took her, hear the whimpers, felt the trembling, the shuddering she couldn't control, could literally feel her flesh crawling at the touch of his body against hers. What had Sandburg said yesterday? Morag had the ears, she had ears of a Sentinel, but she was also borderline in touch...
Morag flew out of his arms as Jim released his hold on her. His arm across Blair's chest prevented his roommate from stepping up behind her again. She stood a few feet away, her back to them, shivering, her hands flying again, only this time brushing at herself--as if brushing something off. Eyes narrowed, Jim watched for a second, then dropped his arm, looking at Blair and raising his eyebrows slightly. He didn't have to say what he was thinking. Morag was Sandburg's friend, the next move was up to the anthropologist. Hands limp at his sides, Blair shook his head slowly, then sighed. He stepped closer to Morag, one hand going out. Jim tensed, but the Guide stopped just short of touching her.
"Morag," Blair whispered, his tone soothing, conciliatory.
"No." She whimpered then, and it took Jim a second to connect the sound with the backfire of a car on the main road, several blocks away.
Fingers of one hand still just short of her elbow, Blair kept trying.
"Don't you understand English, Blair?" she hissed, swirling around to face him. Jim gave Blair full marks for bravery, for not stepping back in the face of the rage now pouring from Morag. The Sentinel stepped up protectively next to his roommate. This time Morag pinned him with those cold eyes.
Jim caught his breath. Closer to her now, the shadows shifting in her eyes were almost overwhelming. He felt his own sight expanding, unconsciously drawn in to look closer, to see...what?
Hell. That's what it was.
Whoever thought hell was fiery had never seen the icy glare that engulfed him now. Hell wasn't hot, it was cold, arctic, sub-zero stinking frigid; shattered souls peering out of frozen grey eyes, myriad shards of ice glittering, spiraling, white on grey on white in a kaleidoscopic whirl, all melting into one wintry, raw, frozen moment of torment, drawing him in and in and...
Blair's touch on his arm brought Jim out of the mini zone out, as Morag's gaze slid away from Jim, back to Sandburg. She stood almost nose to nose with the shorter man and hissed, "I said no! N-O spells no, or didn't you get to watch Sesame Street growing up?"
Blair didn't back up, returned her look for look.
"As a matter of fact, no, I didn't." Blair waited, and when Morag didn't answer, just looked away, he touched her elbow and asked, softly, "What the hell is going on, Morag? What's wrong?"
Irritably, she twitched inside her cape, then took two quick steps away from them--away from Blair's hand on her arm.
"What does it look like, Blair? I have a migraine, I just lost my fourth job in the last six months, and all I want to do is get home."
"This is more than just a migraine, there's more going on here than your hearing being out of control. I'm your friend, Morag, you can trust me, you know that. And, you can trust Jim. Talk to me, Morag, tell me what is going on."
She didn't have an answer for that, fumbling instead in the depths of her cape and coming up with another cigarette and a lighter. Catching both their eyes as she lit the slim paper cylinder, she took a deep drag and shrugged, the lighter disappearing back into the cape as she rubbed her temple with the hand holding the cigarette. Her eyes closed wearily before opening and meeting Blair's concerned gaze again. She waved the cigarette in the air.
"For stress relief it beats straight shots of Double Tee, and it's legal, which is more than you can say for bong hits and shooting up." The smile she offered with that whisper was a grotesque caricature of the one they'd seen just hours ago. Morag must have seen that on their faces, or else the effort to maintain it was too great. The smile disappeared as her gaze flicked away from the two men. "Besides, it helps the headaches."
Blair shifted, his hand dropping to his side. Jim knew the younger man's confusion had to be as deep as his own. The Sentinel understood what a migraine could do to you, how out-of-control senses made you crazy, wanting to be rid of the stimuli, the pain, any way you could, but Morag's behavior far exceeded anything he'd ever seen--or experienced--himself.
Blair took a deep breath, then spoke, still pitching his voice well below normal hearing range.
"You know, even if you don't give a damn about yourself, Morag, there are some people who do. You could at least have the decency to let them care."
"Don't." The single, soft word, coldly spoken, cut across Blair's lower, warmer tone, and Jim heard Sandburg literally choke back whatever else he had been prepared to say. They both stared silently at the woman in front of him.
"Don't what?" Jim finally asked. The grey eyes flicked to him again. The torment was there, more in check now than a second ago, but undeniable.
"Care." The eyes held his for a moment, and then suddenly she turned and ran. Blair started after her, but Jim grabbed him, restrained him, his whispered "Wait" calming Blair's immediate protest. They watched in silence as she dodged through the playground equipment, sawdust muffling her footfalls and then she disappeared into the fog beyond them, never looking back at all.
As soon as she was out of sight, Jim gave Sandburg a push back toward the truck, kicking the pack at him for good measure. The keys Jim held out and a silent look conveyed his meaning well enough, and Blair nodded once before snagging both pack and keys as he headed for the truck at a run. Jim turned to follow Morag, stretching out his senses and seeking her as he went. Blair should catch up soon enough.
Jim followed Morag easily, the small gasps and whimpers as she ran, the scent of the cigarettes a better trail than bread crumbs for the Sentinel. He moved as quietly as he could, waiting on a corner until Blair caught up with him in the truck, and then Blair would stop just before the corner to watch and wait until Jim had tracked Morag to the next corner before pulling up there and starting the whole cycle again.
It wasn't until Jim heard the faint squeal of nails, the short cry Morag couldn't contain even at that slight sound that he realized they'd tracked her all the way home. She fumbled for the key--behind?--beneath a loose board, Jim decided, as he waited, listening, at the corner of a street filled with old bungalow style homes. Well cared for, most of them were converted into apartments now. Morag opened the door to one of those apartments. Jim let the door shut before allowing himself to walk slowly up the street, tracking the sounds. There. The second floor apartment of the house across from him, the one with the dark green dormers.
Standing in the shadows of a large rhododendron, Jim watched one small light come on, and since the blinds were too tightly drawn for even a Sentinel's sight, he listened again. Morag's heartbeat had slowed minutely, the susurating murmur gone completely now. She was still gasping in pain though, small whimpers accompanied by the sound of a bottle opening, liquid pouring into a glass. Then a different sound, one he identified by the soft rattling and clicking a second later as pills, also poured from a bottle. Most of the pills she poured back, and Jim released a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. Quickly piggybacking his sense of smell on hearing, Jim caught a sniff of what Morag tossed back with the pills she did keep, and he sighed as she tossed back a couple more shots for good measure. Well, he could hardly blame her.
Soft footfalls staggered over to another part of the apartment and someone collapsed on what sounded like a bed. Jim eavesdropped for a few moments more as Morag got up again, the bolt lock at the door sliding into place with a sharp report that had her crying out and left Jim's ears ringing. It took a moment to get things back under control, and after one last reconnaissance with ears and nose, he went back to the corner to wave Sandburg forward.
Sandburg gave up the driver's side and slid over without protest when Jim climbed into the truck
"She's home, sounds like she took something for the pain." It wasn't much of a decision *not* to elaborate everything Morag took for her pain.
"Well, we have to go see if she's okay, man, there's not much--" Blair's hand was on the door handle as he spoke. Jim grabbed him before he could get the door open.
"Chief, the last thing she wants right now is company. Trust me." Sandburg took a deep breath, started to object, but Jim's grip didn't lessen. "Look, I heard her go into her apartment and lock her door. Yes, she's still in pain, but, like I said, she took something for it, and she's home and safe. Trust me, it's not worth getting your ears pinned back again to try to talk to her tonight. Besides, you'll miss Star Trek if we don't get home soon."
Ignoring Jim's attempted levity, Blair shook his head. After a long minute he let go of the handle, and leaned back in the seat, one hand reaching up to run through his hair.
"I guess you would know, wouldn't you?"
Jim nodded, letting go of the younger man. He found the key and started the truck, warm now from the cross-town chase. Pulling the lights on, Jim checked out the back window for traffic, then put the truck into gear and turned a corner away from Morag's apartment. They weren't far from the university; with this thick fog it would take at least twenty minutes to get back to the loft.
His roommate sat, fidgeting as he stared silently at the buildings flowing through the fog outside his window.
"What's Double Tee?"
"Double Tvarsky, Chief. One hundred eighty proof vodka." Exactly what he'd smelled tonight.
Jim waited patiently for the outburst that he knew was coming, just as sure as they knew Mt. Rainier would go up one day, sooner or later.
"She meant it, didn't she?"
"Meant what, Chief?"
"What she said. 'Don't care.'"
"I think so."
"Well, as someone once said, it's about friendship. And, last time I checked, that meant caring."
"That's what it meant last time I checked too." Jim played his trump card then, reaching down by Blair's feet to pull the dusty backpack from the floorboard. "She'll be missing this." The younger man stared wide-eyed at the pack. Jim dropped it on the seat, steering the truck around a corner onto the main thoroughfare that would lead them back to the loft. As they made the turn, the pack slid into Blair, and he reached out and fingered the Winnie-the-Pooh applique.
"Yeah, I can drop it off tomorrow. It's just, I've known Morag for what, five years now? I have never, I mean *never* seen her act like that. We even dated a few times and she got pretty upset that time when I--but never like this. *Never* like this." Shaking his head for emphasis, Blair went back to inspecting the fog-shrouded view out his window.
Jim waited, and, when nothing more was forthcoming, he tried to prime the pump a bit.
"You dated Morag? Somehow I never figured her for your type. Besides, I thought you didn't date students." That earned him a glare. Good, better than quiet-staring-out-the-window Sandburg.
"Hey, it was cool, man. I waited until after she got her B.A., when she showed up for grad school that fall, to ask her out." Still fingering the applique, Blair shook his head. "You should have seen her then, Jim. She had long, and I mean long hair, it fell down below her hips in ringlets, man, ringlets and you just wanted to..." Blair's fingers twitched as his voice faded, and Jim smiled. Trust Sandburg, some things never changed. His roommate continued, "Her natural hair color really is black, you know, not purple, but the kind that's auburn in the sun? Man, with that long hair, those eyes and those legs and none of that purple makeup and black clothing crap she was something!"
"Yeah, so, what happened?"
"Oh, we figured out about the fourth date we weren't really each other's type." Blair's voice was high, tight, and Jim heard the pounding of his heart. Waiting through a red light, he accelerated smoothly as it finally turned green. He cast a look at his too-quiet partner.
"Yeah, so, what happened?" Jim repeated.
Blair rolled his eyes at Jim.
"This human lie detector routine can be a real drag, you know that?"
Jim grunted an assent, and waited.
"We went back to my apartment. I figured, you know, a little wine, a little music, a little sex. We're all big grad students now, right? Anyway, she was going along with the program--hell, she was enjoying the program and then I don't know, we got to the part where you take your clothes off. I touched her up under her shirt and she flat freaked, man. I was on the floor and she was across the room and out the door all in the same instant. Never seen anyone move that fast in my entire life."
Uh oh.... Jim stole a sideways look at his roommate, the image of Morag tonight suddenly superimposed over Blair sitting quietly in the truck, Morag brushing off what he suddenly knew had to be any physical contact with either of them. The memory shifted, now it was Morag quivering as Jim held her tightly, trying to protect them all from her clawing fingers...then images of Morag all the other times he'd seen her, self-contained, controlled, very much in her own space and *not* touching anyone or anything. Even leaning over Blair's shoulder in his office the other night Morag wasn't touching him. 'Hands OFF!' might as well be stenciled in big yellow letters on her cape.
Jim sighed, hints and clues suddenly shifting, coalescing, the puzzle he hadn't even seen falling into place Damn.
*For as perceptive as you are most of the time, Sandburg, you missed this one outright, didn't you?*
"Looks like you made up all right." Jim kept his tone casual, knowing he wasn't the only one with lie detection capabilities.
"Yeah, well, I do know how to take 'No' for an answer." Still staring out the window, Blair shrugged. "We saw each other the next day and we both apologized. She was fine, and we were friends after that, good friends. Sometimes it seemed like we were the only clean ones at a few too many parties. Then one day about halfway through spring semester she just disappears. It wasn't too long before I found out about you. A bunch of us were going out, only Morag was late. I waited for her, but she never showed and when I went by her apartment the next day they said she was gone. I thought it was a scam, but it was true. She'd split without a word. Left all her stuff and blew town. Came back the next fall, after I'd started working with you. She'd gotten into all this Gothic crap while she was gone. Never would say where she'd been or why she left. Other than the Halloween fashion show she still seemed like the same old Morag, though. Maybe a bit quieter."
One elbow on the window, fingers rubbing absently at his forehead as he drove, Jim didn't say anything, not sure how to tell Blair what he was thinking. He'd seen too many other women like Morag in his time with Cascade P.D. All of them women who walked the same way, who reacted like Morag tonight when Jim had grabbed her. Just children, some of them, older women sometimes, some who even plied the oldest trade around, but the hell in their eyes was all the same. Even in Peru there had been two Chopec women, sisters, out in the forest gathering flowers for one's wedding when they were taken by a rival tribe's warriors, before his time as Sentinel. Actually, Jim couldn't blame Sandburg, because he'd missed it too. He'd seen what Morag wanted him to see, the black, the stand-offishness, and hadn't gone any further, dubbed her 'Elvira' in mockery, and never thought to see what it was he was truly mocking.
"What are you thinking Jim?"
Jim took a deep breath, glanced over at his roommate before exhaling softly.
"That there's more to Morag than meets the eye."
Blair let go of the Pooh applique and faced Jim, his eyes wide, the twinkle in them unmistakable even in the darkness of the truck's cab.
"*You* are telling *me* that there's more to Morag than meets the eye?"
"Sandburg..." Jim growled, welcoming the teasing, letting it clear the air and hoping it closed the subject for his roommate.
Shifting in his seat, Blair seemed to welcome the banter as well. One hand resting on the door now, pointing at Jim with the other, Blair chuckled.
"Hey, man, I just want to be sure I have this straight. You, the man who tagged her 'Elvira' from the first time he met her, are telling me that there's more to Morag than meets the eye? Flow with me here, Jim, I just want to get my facts straight, good research and all, you know that."
Jim didn't add that Blair was *not* going to like what "more" was, just went along with it.
"Yes, Sandburg, I am, or did you shake your head too hard back there and all your brains flew out your ears?"
Both hands went out in the classic conciliatory gesture as Sandburg shook his head.
"Hey, no need to get hosti--"
Blair's cell phone shrilled then, and both men scrambled. The grad student frantically dug his cell phone out of his coat pocket. Jim, realizing there was no way to make the remaining distance to the loft and all that wonderful equipment sitting there, waiting for this call, swerved over to the curb, pulling into an empty parking lot in front of a used book store.
Blair was staring at him, despair etched on his face when Jim looked up from digging his own cell phone out of his coat pocket. Jim followed his glance down to the LED display, where the caller ID function neatly displayed "BLOCKED."
Damn! Dueling technologies and this time the good guys lost. Blair flipped the phone open, one hand reaching for Jim's shoulder as Jim dropped his own phone on the seat beside them and prepared to listen in to the call.
The tiny voice was desperate.
"I'm here. What's wrong? Are you okay?"
Jim waited with his roommate, focusing his hearing on the small voice sobbing through the earpiece, then trying to reach beyond it, glean what clues he could from background noises. Trouble was, other than the racing heartbeat and occasional whimpers and gasps, there wasn't much to be heard. No traffic, some wind in the trees, but nothing substantial, nothing that would help them help this tiny person out. A dripping faucet, someone--no, several someones, breathing deeply, asleep in other parts of the house.
"She hurts, Blair, she hurts and I don't know what to do!"
Jim sorted and separated out three different heartbeats, adults he thought, and at least two more that were probably children. Hard to be sure which was which when everyone seemed to be asleep, though.
"Who hurts? Please, who's hurt?"
"Emby, she hurts, she's crying, and I can't help her, I can't!"
Emby was hurt, she was crying. Why couldn't Jim hear her then? The small voice was alone in her room, he was certain of that.
"Okay, honey, I need you to take a deep breath, okay? Take a deep breath and speak slowly--what's your name, can you tell me your name? It would make this a lot easier." Blair kept his voice calm, radiating warmth and sincerity through the connection. They both heard the deep breath from the little girl before she spoke again.
"Persis, my name is Persis, but it's not me, it's Emby and she hurts and Sheena won't listen to me--"
"Did someone hurt her?"
"No, but it's his fault, he was there today, watching, and he scares her, he scares me, and Sheena's saying not to tell and not to talk and she don't like you or the big man but Emby, she wants help now and I want help, even if Sheena doesn't--"
There was a sudden, sharp gasp, and then,
"Blair, please, she's crying, Emby's crying, you have to help her, you have to!"
"Persis, where are you?" Blair's fingers were digging holes in Jim's shoulder.
Dead silence, and but for the frantic heartbeat only Jim could hear, the line may as well have gone dead.
"You, you, you don't know? But, I heard--I thought you knew, I thought she trusted you, told you--"
"Persis! Persis, listen to me. She did tell me, okay? Right now though I'm with my friend, with the big man, and we're in his truck. We're on our way, if you can just tell me where you are."
More silence. Blair's eyes were huge, pleading, seeking reassurance from Jim, begging his Sentinel to find something, anything. Jim had to shake his head. There were no clues, no hints as to where she was, just one house in a street of more houses, nothing even to place the child somewhere in the city of Cascade.
"No! I can't tell, I can't--Emby told you, I know she did! I heard you! You know; you know! If you don't want to come--"
"Persis, no, I want to, but I nee--"
"I have to go now, Blair, I have to, Sheena's coming!"
The "ca-thunk" of the receiver in the cradle left Jim's head spinning.
Blair's fingers digging into his shoulder again and the screech of brakes as a nearby car misjudged the yellow light brought him back to reality.
"Did you get anything?" The desperation in Sandburg's voice matched that of the young girl who'd just pleaded for their help. Reading the answer in Jim's eyes before he responded, Blair peeled his fingers off the Sentinel's shoulder, his hand dropping helplessly to the seat beside him.
Jim thought for a moment, replaying the call in his mind while he rubbed his aching joint, before sighing and shaking his head ruefully.
"No. Nothing, at least nothing substantial. There were probably three adults asleep downstairs, and a couple of kids somewhere else, and they have a leaky faucet in the basement. Other than that..." Jim shrugged, released his shoulder and reached for the keys.
"She said I knew where they were, that Emby had told me."
"I heard." There wasn't much else to say, so Jim started the truck up again.
Blair slammed the phone shut, and punched the dashboard in front of him.
"Dammit! If we just had some clue as to who this Emby was!"
Blair's rant was just winding up. Jim listened, letting Blair blow off steam. First Morag, and now this. Gee, and he'd complained about all the fun at his expense earlier. Well, if he'd known the turn--two turns--the evening was going to take, he'd have...what? Stayed home?
Hands waving, Sandburg was still talking, barely pausing for breath.
"...so we got her name, but we now have three children in danger, Persis, one named Sheena, and Emby. What the hell kind of names are those? Huh? What kind of shit names are those? Where did the parents dig those stupid names up?" One hand up in the air, staring angrily at Jim, Sandburg finally wound down. Jim saw his chance.
"She was alone, Chief."
"Huh? What do you mean she was alone? I thought you said--"
"Alone as in I couldn't find anyone else in the room with her."
"No one? Not even, what's her name, Emby?"
"Nope." Both men were silent while Jim took the truck forward, out into traffic again.
Blair tried again.
"Nothing? No other heartbeat, no crying, nothing?"
"Chief, I told you, I could hear water dripping in the basement, and about half a dozen other people asleep through out the house. But there was no one in that room with her."
Blair just stared at Jim as they turned onto Prospect street.
"So, what are you trying to tell me?"
"I don't know. Maybe we need to consider the possibility that these are prank calls. That someone's yanking your chain, getting their jollies out of harassing you."
"Oh, come on, you can't believe that, you heard her! Jim, you can't--"
"I'm not writing it off, I'm just trying to keep an open mind as to what might be going on, that's all. Please, Chief, I really don't want to argue about this now."
Sandburg didn't like that, didn't like it all. But, for once, he didn't try to argue with it. Good. Jim wasn't sure what to think himself. The fear, the terror in the small voice, that had seemed real enough. What scared Jim almost more than the fact Persis might be really a small girl in trouble was the fact that, if these calls were pranks, whoever it was didn't feel the need for an audience--which meant that this went beyond your normal juvenile jokester. This sounded like someone who was deeply disturbed, and this someone was calling his partner. It was not a comforting thought.
Lost in morbid thoughts, Jim made the last turn onto Prospect Street. Blair was still staring out the window, and the despair in his voice echoed Jim's own depression at the turn the evening's events had taken.
"Jim, why do I feel like this entire night has been one step forward and two steps back?"
Jim parked the blue and white truck and turned it off before answering his roommate.
"Maybe because it has been, Chief. Maybe because it has been."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Continued in Part Three...